NASCAR and School Buses?
Ah, a hot, humid Friday night in late May here in southwest Ohio. What more do you need than to be able to see the haze in the trees, the June Bugs pinging off the track lights, the combined fragrance of 110 octane and scorching rubber? Throw in a couple hundred intoxicated rednecks oozing Bud Light and Budweiser from their pores, and I am in heaven.
Kil Kare Speedway, located in Xenia, Ohio has been a NASCAR "home track" for 19 years, but has existed since 1951. Then, a dirt fifth-mile oval, was renovated in 1955 into the third-mile, D-shaped oval it is known for today. Next door, the NHRA saw a golden opportunity in 1959 when the Green County Airport relocated to establish a sanctioned drag strip, and has been a southwest central Ohio icon of motor sports since. Occasionally, when my schedule permits, I will attend the round track on Friday nights, and the quarter mile showdowns on Saturdays. Running the NASCAR Whelen All American Series, Sports Stock, Modified, and Compact Divisions weekly, May 22ND also offered fans a glimpse of what it would be like if your school bus drivers lost their marbles and went on a rampage. That's right folks, school bus racing, concluded by a subsequent demolition derby of said vehicles. However, I digress...
Now, I am about to mention names that none of you will be familiar with, but work just as hard, if not harder than the guys in the big leagues. They work a regular job all week, sweat in their garages at night, and bleed petrol on the weekends. These men and women are everyday folk like the rest of us, and as such, are racers. Usually, it's the NASCAR Whelen All American Series that puts on the best show, and Friday was no exception, and it is amazing to see the amount of action in a mere 30-lap feature. Caution laps do not count, so on occasion, the events can be a bit daunting, but not this night. On lap four, a normally dominant Tony Brunke (29) was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and ended up on the roll back after face planting the wall in turn two. A hard enough hit to red flag the event for nearly 20 minutes. Not to be upstaged by Tony, a five car pile-up ensued on lap 10, but most spectacularly landed Ricky Bates (8) literally on top of Don Mahaffey (99) right in front of our grandstand. All around got a true appreciation for what the underside of the NASCAR Whelen All American Series cars look like from the bottom. Of course this resulted in another red flag, but all drivers walked away from their respective crashes unscathed. Virgil Powell (78), who had dominated the entire feature, found himself racing a tad too hard into turn two on lap 27 and discovered his rear trying to pass his front producing a tire smoke cloud so thick that visibility was nil. This opened the door for Justin Alsip (28) to take command and remain at the top of the point standings, taking the checkered flag in one of the best feature events I had seen at this facility in quite some time.
If you have never witnessed a modified race, you are missing out folks! Low to the ground, sliding through turns, and rubbing tires for 30 laps kept me on the edge of my wooden bleacher from green to checkered. My hometown favorite, and firefighter, Ralph Harrod (28), from the Springfield Fire Division held the lead going into the final laps of the feature. However, perhaps he was too hungry as Jack Jones (20), was able to get a nose under him in the closing laps after getting loose and drive away to the finish.
I don't want to take away from the Sports Stock and Compact Divisions, as Shawn Stansell (40) and Tim Haerr (8) won their feature events respectively, but the excitement isn't as great for the fans in these divisions as the cars are much slower and the fans don't seem to respond as they do to the NWAAS and the NWMS.
However, racing for nothing but pure entertainment, laughs, and bragging rights, many of these same drivers took to some retired school buses, strapped in, put their balls to the wall to take on the infield figure eight configuration at Kil Kare for some nail biting, tire rubbing, sheet metal grinding racing only to conclude by a demolition derby of these same vehicles until there were none left standing! Complete with vandalistic- style spray paint jobs, each bus represented in its own, unique way, and if your wondering, a short bus won the feature! A true exciting moment as the derby was winding down, was when one of the buses (which are higher than the retaining wall) was backed into the concrete resulting in about a ten foot, 3-D view of what a bus looks like coming through a catch fence! Fortunately, no spectators were injured in the incident, but I am sure it is something track owners will evaluate for next school bus race in August. Let me assure those who have children riding school buses daily that after witnessing this event, these are perhaps the most durable vehicles on the road!
The lesson here? If you go to a hometown track, you may not know the drivers, or be familiar with the different divisions, but you will be treated to racing as it was in its infancy. Raw, aggressive, and emotionally charged like it was meant to be. The drivers put it all out there for nothing more than a photo op, a smile, a few hundred bucks, and us, the fans. I encourage you all to find your closest NASCAR hometown track, and you will discover racing as it should be.
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